Burma’s Heroes in Amarillo Texas,
With Loving Kindness.
Sitt gave me a private showing of his fantastic art work and as usual,
I was captivated by his artistic prowess and his rich blend of ancient
Indian and contemporary styles he is noted for. After all, he was a
pioneer and a trail blazer in the art scene of South Asia and his works
grace private collections and galleries around the world. He is also a
champion of Burma’s struggle for democracy in his own right and has
donated literally millions of dollars in art to Burmese pro democracy
organizations around the world. If you know Sitt then you already
know that a visit with this iconic figure is always an adventure, on
many levels I might add.
On this journey I was afforded the opportunity to meet with some of
the warriors in Burma’s struggle for democracy. Notably, I met
Saw Ngo, a prolific, talented, world renowned artist and a seasoned
jungle fighter. I also met with a former child soldier along with
members of the NLD, 88 Generation and a host of other champions
of Burma’s struggle including Ko Ju Ju & Thein Saung and this story
is dedicated to them. There were a few other folks but I did not get
their names, at least not this time.
In speaking with a former child soldier, named Aung Aung, I asked him
how he was forced into service at the age of 11. He countered that he was
not coerced in any way. After watching people being murdered and
experiencing the savagery and blood lusting of Burma’s Tatmadaw
he chose to take up arms to defend his people. In his words, “I had to
do something, I could not just watch as people were being raped and
murdered”. As he spoke I could see the youthful gleam in his eyes
transform into that of a hardened combat veteran who counted coup
in countless campaigns. By the time he was 21 years of age he had already
spent a lifetime as a jungle fighter. His eyes have witnessed more than
he cared to remember.
I stayed at the home of U Kyaing, his beautiful wife Daw Khin and I was
honored to be a guest in their humble home. Incidentally there was a
fantastic mural painted on the wall of their living room. The centerpiece
is Buddha and on one side is a depiction of the city and on the other side
is Bagan along with scenes of life in their beloved Burma. With artisans
such as Sitt and Saw in their midst this has all the makings of a
Buddhist Shrine and according to U Kyaing this was his intention. And
from what I’ve seen this shrine is well worth viewing. After all, it was
painted by world renowned artists. In fact, Sitt and his paint brush used
the walls of their home as his personal canvas making it appear more
like an art gallery. Words can not describe how welcome they made me feel.
And well, I also loved their fine Burmese cuisine, being the foodie that
I am. I’ll take the wafting aroma of shrimp paste over the smell of
triglyceride fries any day. All of a sudden, I am starving to death.
Saw Ngo made his place in Burma’s history as well as the art world and
his illustrations adorn many Burmese journals and his work is known
around the planet. I was awestruck by this talented artist as we reviewed
his works, he was the real deal. His satirical renditions of Burma’s political
circus were both humorous and poignant. As we spoke I also could feel the
sorrow and pain this artist felt within his spirit. Unpretentiously, Saw also
told me about the plight of the veterans of Burma’s struggle who reside in
Amarillo. Though they gave their all for Burma, her people and the cause
for democracy they felt alone, isolated and forgotten. Their stories of heroism,
their struggle to survive and the memory of their fallen brothers and sisters
who sacrificed their lives have never been told. Hmm, I will just have to do
something about that.
The issues that US combat veterans face when returning from war are the
same issues these warriors must endure. When we sat around and enjoyed
the day together we had a wonderful time. They were full of stories of both
joy and deep sorrow. It was clear they suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
in the extreme, just like moi. But what compounded their suffering was the
fact they are forgotten or ignored and have little, if any, recognition of their
sacrifices. They don’t have resources available to them to deal with PTSD or
other associated maladies that afflict those who faced absolutes and death.
They are combat veterans without any support system or benefits. With a
price still on their heads they also can’t ever go back home to Burma, the
land of their birth and the land they truly love.
I was humbled by their presence and felt honored to be privy to their stories
and knew their anguish. I personally know what its like to relive tragic and
horrific events in life, over and over again, bouncing from fear to anger than
sorrow all at once. I know what its like to wake up covered in sweat screaming
at the top of my lungs filled with fear, anger & sorrow with my heart beating
out of my chest. For me, triggers are everywhere, from a scent that takes me
back to a moment in time filled with the smell of death, a sound that sends me
to the floor or that special feeling of fear knowing people are out there trying
to kill you. That is a hard one for me, the feeling of fear of discovery and
imminent death. Sometimes I just can’t shake it and it haunts me at the worst
time. It’s embarrassing for me to visit people and stay over-night because of
my midnight outbursts of horrific screams.
Another issue I addressed was how the local law enforcement in Amarillo
treated them since I’ve heard some horror stories from refugees who came
from the Dallas Fort Worth area for a visit. To my joy I was informed that
the cops are very compassionate to them and have gone out of their way
to assist as understand their culture. “We love the police here in Amarillo
because they are kind to us” I was told. When I queried why other refugees
from out of town complained about Amarillo’s law enforcement one person
said, “You can’t play big shot from the big city; you just need to be honest
and respect them (cops), and they will help you”. From personal experience;
if you act like a dick the police will give you the shaft and like the sign says:
“You Don’t Mess With Texas”. Frankly, I’ve dealt with more police brutality
and racism in the “Land of Fruits and Nuts” (California) then I ever
experience in Texas and I’m as ethnic as it gets.
Then I met Aung Aung’s parents, father U Myo Myint and his mom Daw Aye Ye
and was I in for a foodie’s surprise. Daw Aye Ye was busy preparing some
traditional Burmese food when I arrived, talk about timing eh. We chatted
for a bit and I asked U Myo Myint if he would ever consider going back to
Burma since there is a new government in place. He looked at me then laughed
and informed me that nothing has changed and people continue to be
murdered by the junta. I was later informed he had a price on his scalp for his
intense involvement in the pro democracy movement. He was a jungle fighter
as well, hmm, like father like son.
Later Daw Aye Ye prepared a meal that was fit for Alaungpaya and his royal
court. The aromas throughout their home were scintillating. When the meal
was presented I could not help but become ravenously hungry as I viewed all
the entrées on the table. There was delicacies of every kind and don’t ask me
to pronounce their names either but one thing was for sure, they were all
beyond excellent. One item in particular caught my attention though. It was
a leaf wrapped delicacy of prepared fish row and mushrooms that just blew
me away. That was one of the most flavorful delights I had ever tasted. I
struggled hard not to make a piglet out of myself, and a struggle it was.
I asked Myo and Aye if they would adopt me.
The trip to Amarillo was a fantastic journey into the heart and
soul of Burma for I
had the opportunity to hang out with my friend Sitt, meet with the unsung
heroes of Burma’s democracy movement and eat some very delicious food.
We all decided that there is more to do in Amarillo as far as the Burmese
community is concerned. I plan to be back in the near future to shoot more
film, write more stories and see what else I can offer this budding Burmese
community. Most important of all, I want Burma’s heroes to know they are
not forgotten and it was truly an honor to be in the presence of democracies
champions. And one more thing,
I’ll be back with my industrial strength chop stick.
Your Devil’s Advocate
© 2012, Buffalohair Productions. All rights reserved.